In Zimbabwe, pluralism and lack of coordination among extension service providers at the grassroots level are causing lower outputs and confusion at farmers' expense. This calls for coordination and collaboration to improve effectiveness and avoid the duplication and wastage of scarce resources. This study examines the current status of Zimbabwe's local extension system, and aims to develop a collaborative strategy to ensure its efficiency. The study uses the rapid appraisal of agricultural knowledge systems (RAAKS) methodology, complemented by qualitative research techniques such as key informant (stakeholder) interviews and discussions.
The Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) is the Zimbabwean government's principal extension agency and the largest public rural intervention agency with representatives at the national, provincial, district and village levels. AGRITEX offers a blanket public good service, which farmers are expected to use. However, while large-scale commercial farmers perceive AGRITEX as generally not competent to provide advisory services to their subsector, the smallholder sector's adoption of available technologies has not reached expected levels. Among the other organizations providing agricultural services to large-scale and smallholder farmers are public community development and agricultural extension service providers, public research-cum-extension organizations, donor-supported rural development programmes, international and private research centres, farmers' associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and bilateral donors, private agrochemical input suppliers, commodity processors and what has been conceptualized as "bat" actors.
There is great diversity among organizations in terms of their organizational mandates, motivation for extension work, major extension approaches used, extension or community development programmes implemented, sources of funding, sustainability of that funding, geographic areas covered, profiles of target populations or beneficiaries, coverage, mobility capacity, and effectiveness on the ground. Among the agricultural extension approaches that have been tried in pre- and post-independence Zimbabwe are the group development area (GDA) approach, master farmer training schemes, the radio listening group (RLG) approach, the training and visit (T&V) system, the farming systems research and extension (FSRE) methodology and the commodity-based approach. Some of these approaches have been abandoned for various reasons, while others are still in use.
A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis was conducted to analyse the various SWOTs within both organizations and the agricultural extension system as a whole. This study also carried out an additional SWOT analysis at the category level, which focused on categories of extension service providers. As expected, different organizations and categories of agricultural extension service providers had different SWOTs. The qualifications, competence and experience of personnel have improved over the years. Understanding of community needs has improved greatly, while the empowerment of communities has led to an increased demand for services. However, technical knowledge in a number of new enterprises, such as ostrich and crocodile farming, is still scarce. In addition, financial support is limited for the majority of organizations, and most lack an integrated approach to agricultural extension, despite the rhetoric of recent years.
Opportunities exist in various fields, and the need for interventions has grown over the years. Despite the threat of donor fatigue and the withdrawal of major donors as a result of various socio-politico-economic factors, some donors are still interested in funding programmes that are well designed and have a demonstrated impact. There are also excellent opportunities for government agencies and NGOs to establish strategic alliances (collaboration arrangements) with the local private companies that have stakes in various sectors. However, the system is still threatened by factors that include donor fatigue, HIV/AIDS and natural disasters.
Formal institutional linkages and informal networks emerge as a result of particular interventions. Both are characterized by joint planning, joint implementation (including field visits), division of tasks, and sharing of information and resources. Both also tend to be more pronounced at the district and local levels (the operation levels) than at the head office or provincial levels, but there are a few formal linkages at the administrative (head office) level. Conceptually, formal linkages differ markedly from informal networks. Formal linkages are very institutional in nature and have written and laid down goals and procedures. Informal networks depend more on individual efforts to network than on organizational mandates or initiatives. In formal linkages, organizations are represented on the boards of other collaborating institutions. Informal linkages or networks depend on personal contact and cooperation among the members of different state agencies, NGOs, international organizations and groups of farmers and tend to be developed when there is a need for such collaboration. Informal networks can sometimes be based on the objective of a reciprocal exchange of information and favours in which the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to the organizational culture that characterizes most formal linkages.
One of this study's major findings is that many stakeholders perceive no clear-cut lines between what can be considered a formal linkage and what an informal network; they see linkages and networks as a single concept in collaboration efforts. Discussions with informants also revealed that formal linkages among agricultural extension service providers are weak because they tend to be more personalized than institutional.
The local agricultural extension system is also characterized by numerous interfaces, which arise from the context of a multitude of different actors, backgrounds, mandates and experiences, and the resultant diversity of world-views, perceptions, real objectives, practices and strategies. Several factors are usually at work: political factors refer to institutional politics and the interest groups that play a role within them; technical factors are the methods and activities that are associated specifically with the development and dissemination of agricultural technology; and organizational factors include the division of tasks, resources and authority among different organizations and individuals, and the internal management and informal dynamics of each organization and its components.
Perceptions of which attributes indicate the success or failure of an intervention tend to be as diverse as the backgrounds of the key informants. However, the majority of informants highlighted that a successful project has to have a positive impact on the ground, evidence of ripple effects outside the project area and sustainability within and outside that area. Those who had a different perspective argued that regardless of whether a project is conceived as a success or a failure, there are always useful lessons and experiences to be gained from it. Thus, according to some stakeholders, all interventions are, in some way, positive. In addition, the researcher's opinion is that some interventions were not judged fairly and should be looked at more closely.
There is a need to strengthen and expand existing linkages through including more actors and injecting more funds, because linkages are costly. In addition, linkages should also be established where they are not already in place. This report considers several alternatives, including umbrella strategies at the national level and more specific strategies designed to coordinate activities at the operational level (e.g. at the district level). Specific recommended collaboration strategies include using project coordination committees, utilizing and strengthening the coordination functions of rural district councils, establishing coordination platforms, creating a coordination function within the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and strengthening informal farmer networks. Several geographic locations were suggested as possible pilot study areas: the Chinyika Resettlement Scheme, the Gokwe Dairy Development Programme project and the Mkwasine Sugar Estate Out-grower Scheme.
In practical terms, ensuring that recommended strategies remain effective may be a difficult task. There is a need for a thorough understanding of institutional politics because organizations have several - sometimes divergent - agendas, some of which remain hidden. Several issues are at play where intervention contexts are characterized by a multiplicity of actors. Under such settings, reaching consensus requires much patience and initiative. Thus, a thorough understanding of institutional and organizational politics is essential if the goal of establishing effective linkages and sustainable development is to be achieved.